About Hebrew SeniorLife

Defining Moments & Our Name

Hebrew SeniorLife has grown from a small "home" in Dorchester serving a handful of seniors to an internationally recognized leader in the field of senior care. Over our 100-year history, there have been people, events and accomplishments that have shaped the organization ... and there have been "defining moments," moments in which decisions were made that had profound implications for the future. Our organization, today, is built on the foundation of these "defining moments."
On Wednesday, January 28, 1903, a small group of Orthodox Jews - five women and one man - completed and signed the official documents and paid the five-dollar fee, thus creating the Hebrew Moshav Zekainim Association. Its purpose, the documents stated, was to "establish a Home for the taking care of the old and infirm Jewish men and women in the City of Boston." Two years later, "owing to the demand for a Home for Aged and Infirm Hebrews in our city, where the ritual of orthodoxy will be strictly adhered to," the Association announced that it had purchased a building at 21 Queen Street in Dorchester. It opened its doors in September 1905 with 15 elderly residents. Today, Hebrew SeniorLife serves more than 5,000 seniors at seven sites and, through its programs and facilities, impacts the lives of nearly one-quarter of Jewish seniors over age 70 in the Greater Boston area.
The Moshav Zekainim Association had always relied on the financial support of the Boston Jewish community. During the Depression years, however, both the membership roster and the donations fell to new levels. The Hebrew Moshav Zekainim Association launched a massive membership drive that focused less on established Jewish neighborhoods in Boston and more on the emerging areas of Jewish population north, south and west of the city. It was the beginning of a new approach to membership and fundraising, and it emphasized the important role of women. In 1965, this commitment was formalized by the establishment of the Women's Auxiliary (and the Men's Associates three years later). Since its founding in 1903, more than $100 million has been raised from a generous community and today, over 10,000 members and volunteers form the foundation of the organization.
Dr. Harry Derow was a respected internist on the staff of Beth Israel Hospital when he was asked to conduct a study of the Home's medical needs. His findings provided a blueprint for the Home's medical organization and program of care and he became the first physician-in-chief. He bought equipment, set up a clinical laboratory, hired staff, conducted physical exams on all residents for the first time, and envisioned the Home as a training site for young physicians interested in the field of geriatrics. Today, Hebrew SeniorLife has on staff as many or more geriatricians than twelve states and some of Boston's leading teaching hospitals.
The Board of Directors voted to relocate the Home. The belief was that in order for the Home to establish itself as an important geriatric treatment facility, it had to be closer in proximity to the Boston medical area on a site in which there was room to grow.  The official announcement that a greatly expanded facility would be built on a location other than Queen Street was made on June 4, 1953, at a gala dinner commemorating the Home's 50th anniversary. The new location, however, had yet to be determined. The City of Boston was willing to sell a 9.5-acre parcel of land known as Joyce Kilmer Park, which abutted the Arnold Arboretum. The purchase price was $40,500. Ground was broken in 1956 at the new location at 1200 Centre Street in Roslindale and on September 22, 1963, more than 260 residents moved from 21 Queen Street in Dorchester to the new 475-bed residence. The name was officially changed from "Hebrew Home for Aged" to "Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for Aged," reflecting its new charter as a chronic care hospital and home "for aged and ill men and women of Boston who require nursing care." Its purpose was "to promote and carry on medical and scientific research in the care of the aged and train persons in attending to and serving the needs and interests of the aged."
The Center faced a daunting problem. When the new 475-bed facility in Roslindale was completed in 1963, about 250 people were waiting for admission. The new building was quickly filled to capacity and the waiting list soon grew to 500. Sylvia Sherwood, Ph.D., a respected sociologist from Tufts University, was hired to answer the question as to whether there were other ways of housing elderly people -- even chronically ill and severely impaired seniors -- that would enable them to remain independent. Her findings were startling. Half the seniors on the waiting list did not need 24-hour care and many would be able to get along in their community with minimum support services. Sherwood's work led to the establishment of the Department of Social Gerontological Research at HRCA and laid the groundwork for building alternative community-based housing for older people who are still active and vigorous.
On March 18, 1966, four second-year students from Harvard Medical School arrived at the Center to participate in the new HRCA-Harvard teaching program. The event was the culmination of the vision, effort and connections of the then-physician-in-chief Dr. Arthur Linenthal and it was the beginning of a formal commitment to the teaching and training of geriatric professionals. In 1978, the Center became a key player in the Harvard Fellowship in Geriatric Medicine Program and a formal affiliation with the College of Nursing at UMass Boston was established in 1997. Today, Hebrew SeniorLife trains more students in the field of geriatrics - nearly 600 annually - than any other long-term care facility in the country. It also awards more than $100,000 each year in scholarships to students studying in the geriatric professions.
With the opening of Revere (now Jack Satter) House, the Center established a commitment to the creation of vibrant, affordable, attractive and secure communities where seniors could remain healthy, independent and socially engaged. This was followed in 1985 with the completion of Goldie and Louis Trilling House, now named Simon C. Fireman Community, in Randolph and the purchase in 2002 of three buildings of senior housing in Brookline, now known as Center Communities of Brookline. Today, Hebrew SeniorLife provides 1,000 units of housing for community-based seniors. These housing sites promote tenant participation in all activities -- from program planning to community philanthropy to running the coffee shop. This energized spirit of involvement and community has become the philosophy of housing at Hebrew SeniorLife.
When the Social Gerontological research department joined with the Medical research department in 1991 to form the Research and Training Institute, a powerhouse in geriatric research was born. Today, the Institute for Aging Research is the largest provider-based geriatric research facility in the United States, with a research portfolio of more than $41 million. It is in the top 11 percent of all U.S. research institutions that receive funding from the National Institutes of Health. Under the direction of Usen Chair Lewis Lipsitz, M.D., and Slifka Family Chair John Morris, Ph.D., work done at the Institute has influenced the lives of millions of seniors throughout the country and around the world. The Minimum Data Set (MDS), which was developed at the Institute, is now mandated by federal law and serves as the cornerstone of quality improvements in nursing homes throughout the country. And groundbreaking research more than a decade ago established the benefits of weight training for even the oldest seniors. In 2005, the Institute changed its name to the Institute for Aging Research and created the Aging Brain Center, led by Sharon Inouye, M.D., a national expert in the field of delirium.
With the opening of Orchard Cove, the Center's new continuing care retirement community in Canton, the Center had accomplished something that no other Jewish organization had attempted: it had built a new type of housing for seniors of means -- seniors who were making a conscious decision to pay with their own funds to be part of the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for Aged family. It was the beginning of a new direction for the Center. Historically, the Center was associated with the long-term care needs of seniors receiving Medicaid funding. With Orchard Cove, the Center began to expand its mission to a broader Jewish community -- broader both in terms of age and socio-economic status. It had provided all of the elements of a senior care continuum on one campus and established a spirit of innovation, flexibility and entrepreneurship critical to the organization's future.

Hebrew Rehabilitation Center opened a unit specifically geared toward Russian-speaking seniors, creating a unique environment conducive to the intellectual, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of its Russian residents. Today, more than 100 Russian seniors call HRC home.

Len Fishman was named president and CEO of Hebrew SeniorLife. With broad experience in the field of senior services and a passion for improving the quality of life of seniors, Mr. Fishman came to HSL from the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, a 6,000-member national organization of non-profit long-term care and senior housing facilities. He previously served as commissioner of Health and Senior Services in New Jersey.

With the opening of the Recuperative Services Unit, Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, for the first time, offered short-term, post-hospital care to older adults who require rehabilitative services in order to return to their homes.
Hebrew SeniorLife celebrated its 100th anniversary of providing care and housing for seniors. From humble beginnings in 1903, HLS has become a national leader in the field of senior care.
Expanding its care options for community-based seniors, Hebrew Rehabilitation Center opened a 31-bed Medical Acute Care Unit (MACU), a licensed long-term acute care unit that provides a much-needed alternative to hospital care for patients with certain complex medical conditions. Earlier in the year, Hebrew Rehabilitation Center opened outpatient specialty clinics to provide services for community-based seniors, including clinics in rehabilitation, audiology, osteoporosis screening, memory disorders, and exercise and fitness.

A Specialized Care Unit for residents with Alzheimer's disease and other related dementias opened at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center. The unit, which is approved by the Alzheimer's Association, takes a holistic approach to managing residents with dementia.

HRC also established a Palliative Care Program to help prevent and relieve suffering and to support the best quality of life of residents and patients.

Ground was broken in Dedham for the building of NewBridge on the Charles, HSL's planned multigenerational campus that will bring together seniors and children in a setting of living, learning and sharing. A $15 million gift from Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson named the 162-acre campus. 

 For more than 30 years, Hebrew SeniorLife has been at the forefront of geriatric physician education, including the essential training of Harvard Medical School students and geriatric internists, specialists and researchers. Hebrew SeniorLife and Harvard Medical School announced a formal teaching affiliation, recognizing the contributions HSL has made to the clinical and research missions of HMS for nearly 40 years.


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